Sunday, June 7, 2009


I picked this up at a thrift store, thinking it was on my list. Alas, it was not. So I cheated and changed Jane Austen's Emma to Northanger Abbey. But as I'm confessing this, I hope you will absolve me of wrongdoing. : )

Catherine Morland is a poor but happy, naive young woman who makes her first vacation and "debut" at Bath, where she meets Isabella Thorpe, her brother John Thorpe, and the Tilsens. She befriends Isabella, who from early on you see is one of "those" women - capricious, conniving, and manipulative. Her brother John is no better, in fact he is worse, for, in addition to these qualities, he's a loud-mouthed braggart.

Henry Tilsen and his sister Eleanor couldn't be more different. Indeed, Catherine falls for Henry upon their first meeting, and afterward frets visibly until she sees him again. There's not much indication he loves her, too, at least not at first. In fact, there were times in the novel it felt as though he was openly making fun of Catherine.

However, they invite Catherine to Northanger Abbey, where Catherine engages in a few fantasies straight out of the Gothic horror novels she loves. Some of Austen's writing gives some opinion of these novels (and the writers who write them), and also - through Catherine's thoughts and actions - of the readers who read them. Not the highest opinion, but not the lowest, either. Back then, however, I doubt the concept of reading was one which people felt would soon be lost altogether, as I hear frequently lamented today. Her commentary on snobbery is not at all subtle.

I enjoyed this novel, but not deeply. I got the feeling Austen was still teaching herself to write a novel. If I remember correctly, it's only the second one she wrote, so I'm more than willing to try another of hers. I found her to be almost as witty and biting a social satirist as Dickens; I have a feeling her later stuff does her wit more justice.


Emily Cross said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with this - i always felt this was her 'first novel' as it doesn't have the subtlety of her other books.

It makes you wonder what 'first impressions' was like before it got edited into pride and prejudice!

moonrat said...

just read this one a couple of months ago at the beginning of fill-in-the-gaps, and i felt the same way you did.

i love me some jane; this one was fun, and i'm glad to have read it, but it's not my favorite.

i still have persuasion to read.

freddie said...

A friend of mine is a huge Jane Austen fan and told me Northanger Abbey was her first novel, written in her teens. Gotta say, even though the novels has its flaws, she did a pretty damn good job as a teenager. No way I could have written a novel in my teenage years.